WPCNR COUNTY CLARION-LEDGER From the Westchester County Department of Communications. December 27, 2016. (Edited):
County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced at a news conference this afternoon in the Michaelian Building today that Westchester has surpassed the fundamental benchmarks of the 2009 housing settlement with the federal government.
Under the settlement agreement reached by former County Executive Andrew Spano and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Westchester has until Dec. 31 of this year to have financing and building permits in place for 750 units of affordable housing in 31 mostly white communities.
As of today, the county is over the benchmark with 790 units – 40 more than required, and with another 100 units in the pipeline. Missing the deadline could have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines.
“We had to fulfill our obligations within seven years, and we exceeded them,” Astorino said. “We met our goals because we worked cooperatively with our cities, towns and villages. That approach allowed us to succeed and push back attempts by the federal government to bypass home rule and take over local zoning. I want to thank all our local communities for their efforts and support and also commend all the Westchester County staff members for their expertise and countless hours of hard work.”
With the housing benchmarks met, two tasks, which the court labeled as “peripheral,” remain: sign off by HUD on an analysis of issues that could be impediments to building fair housing in Westchester (primarily in seven upscale Westchester towns), and the enhancement of the county’s marketing and outreach efforts tied to the settlement.
The county expects both to be wrapped up early next year.
The Analysis of Impediments, or “AI” as it is called, is now in the hands of a consulting group, which is expected to release its report to the public in mid-January. Westchester has already submitted the most comprehensive AIs that HUD has ever received.
The county has also hired a consultant to expand its “One Community Campaign,” which promotes the benefits of diversity and affordable housing. New print, radio and social media advertisements are being developed to run in 2017. To date, the county has spent over $1 million on marketing and outreach, well above the settlement’s $400,000 requirement.
As a result of these efforts, more than 10,000 households from 32 states and New York City, as well as Westchester, have signed up for the county’s Homeseeker Central Intake system to learn about and apply for affordable housing opportunities in Westchester.
Because of its progress on all fronts, the county has told the U.S. Attorney that it doesn’t think it is necessary for HUD to appoint a new monitor, who serves at the agency’s pleasure.
James Johnson, whose tenure as monitor dated back to the beginning of the settlement, resigned in August to run for the Democratic nomination for governor of New Jersey. Should HUD appoint a new monitor, the county maintains the selection should be made by the incoming Trump administration.
The county has also objected to HUD’s seeking to eliminate the cap on the monitor’s annual fee, currently $175,000 a year, particularly at a time when the settlement is winding down.
“The settlement’s legal and financial obligations were never intended to last forever,” said Astorino. “It’s time for a conclusion. As the Second Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals said, ‘At some point in time this litigation has to be ended.’ That time should be near.”
Tallying up the costs, the county has spent about $30 million more than the $51.6 million required under the terms of the settlement. In addition, the county has leveraged more than $152 million in other public funding, putting total subsidies at $233 million and the average taxpayer subsidy per settlement unit at approximately $290,000.
As a comparison, the 2016 median sale price in Westchester is $640,000 for a single family home, $357,750 for a condominium and $153,000 for a co-op, according to the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.
Since 2010, the county has also approved over $5 million in funding to support over 400 non-settlement affordable housing units, which are located in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Ossining Village and White Plains.
The county’s Industrial Development Agency has also provided millions of dollars in financial incentives to support over 800 affordable housing units, which are located in a number of municipalities, including Hastings on Hudson, Mamaroneck, Mount Vernon, Rye and Scarsdale.
Astorino said the key challenge to affordable housing in Westchester was and remains economics. For example, he said 16 sites were reviewed in Bronxville, but none were seen as feasible because the subsidies just from the county would have been more than $200,000 per unit.
“Affordable housing is not immune to the high cost of land and high taxes,” said Astorino. “If the goal is to get more people into good affordable housing, as it should be, economics has to be a core focus. Otherwise you end up with housing that’s not affordable to the residents or the taxpayers and that’s not sustainable.”
About 400 of the settlement units are already occupied, with about one third as homeownership and two-thirds as rentals.
Data from the applications show 35 percent of the households applying for the county’s units identified as white, 35 percent as African-American, 3 percent as Asian, 8 percent as multi-racial and 29 percent as Hispanic.
The 31 settlement communities were selected on the basis of the 2000 Census as having lower African-American and Hispanic populations than the county average. Notably, between 2000 and 2010 prior to the implementation of the settlement, the African-American and Hispanic populations of those 31 communities increased 56 percent as a result of natural market forces.
In contrast, the settlement’s 750 units, assuming three people per unit, would at most only increase Hispanic and African-American representation in the 31 communities by 5 percent.
Westchester is the fourth most diverse county in New York (virtually tied with Manhattan; behind only Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx).
If Westchester were a state it would have the seventh largest Hispanic population in percentage terms, and the 14th largest African-American population in percentage terms.
In exceeding its obligations under the 2009 housing settlement, Westchester has put in place policies and plans that will help the county continue to work with local governments on affordable housing. These county initiatives include:
- Amending “Westchester 2025,” the county’s long-range planning initiative, which provides a regional framework for the inclusion and creation of affordable housing. In 2015, the county’s Planning Department was recognized nationally for its ‘best practices’ specifically tied to Westchester 2025.
- Undertaking extensive, specific education and outreach campaigns with municipalities, developers and community groups, including efforts by the Human Rights Commission, regarding affordable housing.
- Assembling and publishing resources that facilitate the development of affordable housing, assist homebuyers, advertise existing homes and developments, and promote the county’s model ordinance, the Planning Department’s Housing website, and the Homeseeker website.
Through Homeseeker, the county can use data about the specific needs of families seeking affordable housing to ensure that future affordable housing developments meet the demands of those most in need. Interestingly, more people have indicated their interest in affordable housing opportunities in Yonkers and Mount Vernon, two communities not covered by the settlement, than any other places in Westchester, according to Homeseeker data.